ISSJ - N° 179 - Tracking Impact. Case Studies on the Research Policy Nexus

March 2004

In pursuit of a wide range of goals, contemporary states intervene ever more closely in the fabric of their societies. They may wish, for instance, to promote public health by anti-smoking and road safety campaigns, to design social benefits that are better suited to highly diverse individual situations, to facilitate forms of “life-long learning” that equip their citizens for the “knowledge society”, or to open up major technological decisions to democratic participation. Such intervention requires both detailed knowledge of social situations and the ability to predict their changes in response to hypothetical schemes. It presupposes, in other words, a rather unlikely deployment of social science. Unlikely, in so far as social science is often uncomfortable with “instrumentalization”, and has, indeed, some good epistemological arguments to dismiss it. Unlikely, equally, because policy makers are often reluctant to take into account the distinctive timeframe and logic of scientific inquiry, to say nothing of possibly embarrassing conclusions. The articles in this issue provide a geographically and sectorally diverse overview – from the Philippines to Uzbekistan and from Cameroon to the Netherlands – of knowledge utilization in social policy, along with an analysis of the obstacles it encounters and the possible failures it may produce. An understanding of such failures is crucial for two inseparable tasks: a more accurate scientific analysis of the social world and enhanced capacities for action to address its most urgent ills.

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